23 March 2016

Budget 2016 and the incipient Innovation Agenda

Yesterday's federal budget offered the new government's prescription for the economy. Many pundits are offering cogent analyses - see Alex Usher's here, and the Polytechnics Canada reaction here, and that of Colleges and Institutes Canada here.

Above all this budget shows strong investment in education, research, and the clean/green economy. Directionally this is good for the country. On the clean economy side, the government is her not picking winners, but showing leadership for any and all of Canadian industry to find a place in this global reality. This is right thinking, and an essential element in Generation Renew.

Increased funding to the granting councils is also excellent. Even better is the language outlining the new Innovation Agenda that will be crafted over the coming months.

The language in Budget 2016 regarding investments in research supports colleges, polytechnics and universities as all being key component of the R&D and innovation ecosystem. 
STRENGTHENING SCIENCE AND RESEARCH The Government understands the central role of science in a thriving, clean economy and in providing evidence for sound policy decisions. Canada’s universities, colleges and other research institutions play a fundamental role in Canadian society by developing highly skilled and creative workers. They are also the engines of discovery, and collaborate on innovations that help companies compete and grow. Budget 2016 takes action to reinvigorate Canada’s research and science base by investing in infrastructure at postsecondary institutions and federal laboratories, fostering research excellence, and accelerating the diffusion and commercialization of knowledge into applications that benefit industry and society as a whole.
This language is intentionally inclusive. While Usher points out that no specific earmark for college research is indicated, this is a positive step forward in that the country recognizes there are many complementary actors in the R&D scene. It is unclear if the granting councils will be left to allocate funds to either basic or applied research (read: university or college); the granting councils have an opportunity to continue to grow the entire ecosystem and I am hopeful that they will continue on the complementary path rather than regress to the politics of the past. The budget makes clear that this kind of divisive thinking is not the target audience.

The infrastructure spending in the $2B Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund (PSISIF) is good for all post-secondary and there are examples in the budget of what it can mean for colleges in terms of training and applied research:
• A college could modernize or create sector-specific training facilities, including capacity for advanced areas such as Red Seal trades;• College and university facilities that support prototype development or proof-of-principle assessment could receive investments in order to better serve the needs of industry partners;
Our role as a demand driven innovation enabler is central to locating our place within the education and R&D ecosystem in the country. 

The really good news is with the Innovation Agenda that Minister Bains will be crafting in the coming months, as he outlined in a recent Toronto Region Board of Trade speechThere is mention of supporting clusters and incubators in colleges and universities. The focus on clean tech and sustainability is significant in that the government is clearly signally that this is an opportunity for Canada to step onto the world stage and craft a role for multiple industries to play in this important global imperative. This is in addition to key investments in skills training and apprenticeships, aboriginal education and skills, and arts and culture. I look forward to learning more in the days and months to come.

14 March 2016

At its core innovation is a mind set

"At its core innovation is a mind set" said the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development during a lunch time speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade. And he is right. Minister Bains made the point repeatedly that Canada should be telling the world about our business strength, our leading position as tertiary educated population (including college and university graduate), our leading basic research capacity. Where we need to do more is in translating this into innovation for Canada. His speech was followed by a panel of discussants and a follow on response by the Minister. All in all, a good discussion on the importance of innovation, and importantly, what the federal government will do about our poor record in innovation.

Minister Bains called for Canada to leverage Canada's diversity for competitiveness and prosperity. To focus on the range of industries in the country, old, new and emergent. Innovation is the ability to find solutions to big problems, and this includes social innovation, he said.

And while the focus is on many industries, clean tech is a priority and not just to our country; it represents 3 trillion to the world economy. "A clean environment means a strong economy" and this will be a focus in the upcoming budget and the Innovation Agenda he has been mandated to create. Collaboration will be a hall mark of this Innovation Agenda - not just in how it will be created via the consultations such as that today, but also in how innovation is supported. This includes the development of clusters: the Government is committed to creating a national network of clusters to replicate the success of DMZ and MaRS. This is a good ting. We have a well defined ecosystem wherein colleges, polytechnics and universities work in concert to support innovation in the public and private sectors. "Innovation is a team effort" the Minister said, and this complementary approach ensures that the right people, with the right skills and the right context are applied to innovation needs as they arise. 

Fundamentally Innovation is about investing in people the Minister told the crowd. This includes STTEM skills and coding - ensuring that our youth can be both producers and consumers in the technologically mediated world. This world will be defined by a focus on climate change and clean tech; Clean Tech companies and technology are important to government because they are important to the society of today and tomorrow. Innovation must be done in a global context, the Minster reminded the audience, and this is Canada's time to lead.

10 March 2016

CICan Applied Research Symposium a success

Representatives of Canada's college applied research leaders met in Winnipeg this past few days at the annual CICan Applied Research Symposium. The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, delivered the opening keynote to the event, which featured a range of college applied research success: from social innovation through to the support of business innovation. The theme of productivity and innovation was amply demonstrated through panels on social innovation (which featured GBC's Dr. Jaswant Kaur Bajwa, Research Coordinator & Professor, Centre for Preparatory and Liberal Studies, recipient of a SSHRC social innovation grant), Industrial Research Chairs, and the Technology Access Centre Network.

The college applied research system in Canada has evolved well into a highly functioning essential element in the innovation ecosystem. A real highlight was a series of presentations by students from across the country, who collectively showed the value of innovation literacy gained through working on applied research.

Colleges are innovation intermediaries, performing a crucial function as a nexus between private and public sector research and development. The annual CICan convening of college applied research shows how this network has been supported - via individual colleges, the granting agencies, private and public sector partners and CICan. The result is a high performing and necessary component in the innovation system in the Country. Each year the symposium gets better because the system is dedicated to continuous improvement and evolution, a strong testament to the applied research community and the convening power of CICan.

01 March 2016

Industry 4.0 and the Factory of the Future

In The future of manufacturing, revealed in an Ontario budget line item we have a good overview of the "Advanced Manufacturing Consortium being formed between McMaster University in Hamilton, Western University in London and the University of Waterloo... a $35-million, five-year commitment" announced in last week's Ontario budget. The piece is interesting in that it talks about the Internet of Things (IoT or Internet of Everything as Cisco puts it) and the so-called fourth industrial revolution. But what is distinctly lacking here is a more complete picture of the inputs into what the factory of the future entails. By this I mean the inclusion of colleges and polytechnics and industry. 

Canada's manufacturing capacity is in need of a boost - to modernize and to realize a place in the economy of the future that the IoT entails. Our launch over a year ago of the Design Centre for the Smart Economy is one way in which we are active in this area. And while it is great that the Ontario government is seeding investment at this trio of leading universities, let's hope that as the centre gets put into action that it provides a conduit for the complementary expertise needed from across the skills and research continuum.